Despite big national gains in the construction industry, contractors in North Carolina say that they continue to have trouble finding skilled workers.
That’s especially true in the Triangle where construction cranes are a common sight amid a building boom that includes high-rise apartments, hotels and office towers in downtown Raleigh and Durham.
“The labor market is very tight,” said Jeffrey Coonse, one of the partners of Subsurface, a Raleigh contractor.
Supervisory positions and jobs that require special skills are particularly hard to fill.
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According to a recent survey by Associated General Contractors of America, 81 percent of North Carolina contractors had trouble filling project manager or supervisor positions and 76 percent reported difficulty hiring hourly craft positions.
Private construction companies aren’t the only ones that are having a problem finding qualified workers. The City of Raleigh has more than 30 vacancies in construction-related areas it needs to fill and is hosting a two-day job fair Sept. 29-30 to help it do so.
Robert Jones, talent acquisition manager with the city, said the increase in demand is largely the result of more people moving into the area. About 64 people a day are moving into Wake County, and about 30 a day are moving into Raleigh, Jones said.
The city’s last such job fair, in January, was successful, Jones said. “We had about 200 people turn out over a two-day period. We hired 18-20 full-time people,” he said.
Ken Simonson, the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, said the shift from vocational training to college education was partly responsible for the labor shortage. “Guidance counselors have been telling kids if you wanna get ahead go to college, and construction is a dirty work,” he said. But, “construction pays 10 percent more than the all-industry average.”
At Subsurface, Coonse said, starting positions pay $15 an hour. Folks who learn specialized skills like drilling can, with experience, earn $25 an hour, whether or not they have even graduated from high school.
“People think, ‘I’m going to college or I’m gonna work in Target,’ ” Coonse said. “Nothing wrong with Target. There are way better jobs in construction. I don’t think kids who aren’t college-bound are aware of the opportunities in construction. I think it’s a shame.”
David Price, of David Price Construction, says that when he was in school, “they used to have a woodworking course, even in middle school they had a woodworking class.” The focus on college education has changed students’ mindsets. “Instead of having to go get a fine arts degree from a four-year school, why wouldn’t they wanna go to Wake Tech and get an electrical degree? If they have the degree already they could make $20 an hour.” Price noted that with experience “lots of those guys are making $60,000. Much better than waiting tables.”
The City of Raleigh’s job fair will attempt to fill over 30 jobs, including some part-time jobs and between 15 and 20 full-time jobs, Jones said. Because these are city jobs, the full-time jobs would include a guaranteed 40-hour work week. At the job fair there will be kiosks where people can apply to the positions, technical support for folks who have a hard time operating computers and on-site hiring managers.
The job fair runs 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Transportation Field Services building at 2550 Operations Way in Raleigh.
For more information, and to find out more about the job openings, go to http://nando.com/4ww.